A GROUP of Gladstone property owners are down thousands of dollars after belatedly discovering they weren't receiving rent from their letting agency.
Century 21 Harbour City went into bankruptcy last October, but the full extent of the problems caused by the closure are still coming to light - tenants of the rental division continued to pay money into their normal letting account, but it hasn't got to the home owners.
It's taken some owners months to discover their investment properties have turned into money sinkholes.
A harbourmaster in Esperance, Western Australia, Rob Lovell, was doing his tax return after a six-month holiday when he realised he hadn't received any rent from his Barney Point property since early December 2015.
The former Gladstone tug boat captain tried to call his former agent at Century 21 but there was no answer.
His tenants didn't answer his calls.
"I had no idea what was happening up there," he said. "How could this be going on for so long and nobody tell me?"
The 61-year-old lived in Gladstone until 2009 when he moved to Esperance.
He listed his property with Century 21 Harbour City because he "liked the attention to detail" the agents had. "I had no problems with them and was shocked when my daughter went online and saw they declared bankruptcy," he said.
His daughter looked online and found The Observer story from October and he learnt why he wasn't being paid. Mr Lovell's tenant of more than two years Tyson Lowe didn't know Century 21 had closed either. He said he had been paying the agency rent the whole time.
That rent is now sitting in an Office of Fair Trading trust account -- but the decision to pay him must first come from the Australian Financial Securities Authority.
And as another home owner (who also contacted this paper) stung by the bankruptcy knows, he shouldn't expect that money soon.
Ruth Archibald realised she hadn't been paid rent when her bank account was overdrawn while caravanning in January. "I was physically sick. It's over $1000 a month and we need the money to cover our loan and our retirement," she said.
Her husband Greg has relisted the property with another agent.
But they still haven't seen a cent from the three months before and are waiting for the Office of Fair Trading to give them the money.
"I'm going to have to work for a couple more years after this disaster, with this problem and the home being worth $200,000 less than what we bought it for. I've never seen the house and I don't want to."
Both the Archibalds and Mr Lovell want to know why they weren't contacted.
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So, what happens to money paid into a rental account when the letting agency has gone bankrupt?
Thankfully for owners stung by Century 21 Harbour City's bankruptcy last year, there is hope.
The rent has piled up in accounts now administered by Dorleng Key who works for Australian Financial Securities Authority.
Ms Key could not speak on specifics, due to privacy laws, but it is her job to go through a business' assets and distribute the money back to landlords who are due rent. The Office of Fair Trading is working with Ms Key to work out when and who the trust account money goes to.
For landlords to prove they own the property they must show Office of Fair Trading rates notices and then wait for the receivership process to go through.
Ms Key has been able to sell some of the rental listings that were on the books of Century 21 Harbour City -- agents buy them and the money goes back into the pool to pay off creditors.
The Observer understands many of those have been taken by LJ Hooker Gladstone and some by CQ Executive Properties.
Neither of the agencies would say how many properties they had taken on or knew how many were listed at Century 21 to begin with. LJ Hooker director Mark Spearing said it was a tough situation when a real estate agency or anyone in Gladstone went into bankruptcy. He advised the owners of properties who had not been contacted by a real estate agency in Gladstone to call Australian Financial Securities Authority and someone there should be able to tell them who had taken the listing.
Australian Financial Securities Authority can be contacted on 1300 364 785 and Office of Fair Trading on 07 3405 0985.
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